Read an Excerpt
Henry's Fate & Other Poems, 1967â"1972
By John Berryman
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 1977 Kate Berryman
All rights reserved.
Uncollected Dream Songs
Canal smell. City that lies on the sea like a cork
of stone & gold, manifold throng your ghosts
of murdered & distraught.
St Mark's remains came here covered with pork,
stolen from Islam. Freedom & power, the Venetian hosts
cluttered blue seas where they sought
the wingèd lion on the conquered gates.
Doge followed Doge down down, the city floated.
Vassals drencht maps.
Fat popes & emperors to the high altar, hates
soothed into peace here. Nothing went unnoted
by the Patriarch perhaps
for a thousand years, when Henry struck his forehead
over his strange eyes & his monstrous beard
ah-ing 'This is too much.'
Canal smell, the Byzantine beauty of the dead,
with lovers arm in arm by the basin, weird
to Henry as such.
Many bore uncomplaining their lives pained
so long and in such weather. Henry complained.
All a Venetian June
the sun raged down on stone & water. Gondoliers slept
thro' midday on to four. Man was inept
against the sun, and soon
humid Henry took boat up the Grand Canal
where the breeze & the palaces refreshed him, pal,
palaces bold & demure.
Churches in dozens chose his attention; closed
like Rome's some fourteen years ago. He dozed,
dreaming of the stupendous & impure
success of men on these islands, hard on men
but easy now the fabulous city again
with Stellio in command
& vino & Scellio at the bar is being good
to almost prostrate foreigners full of gratitude
for the power here, brain & hand.
Legman assman bustman, abominable Henry
wandered thro' France & Italy agog:
my God what visible places.
Everywhere he studied with both his eyes the faces
of those whose fates were his, like a Sligo bog
to be cut & burnt, or be
flourisht amongst great clouds for a long time
ah next San Marco choiring, who was cut off
just ere he finisht his work,
Henry's destiny? He fought it tooth & rime
country to country, hanging on. When he's had enough
he'll mount into the dark
but not (praise Serenissimo) until
tranquil in Athens to the final touch
he takes his restless labour.
O he is not working as at the mill
nor is he working yet for any neighbour
save two, whom with the future he counts on much.
Out of this city musical where Henry is obscure
in a grand hotel upon a casual canal,
near Ponte Goldoni,
he'll stream by train to an international festival
to perform his tricks, which he can hardly endure
but then he did agree.
Then on to London, to perform more tricks.
Photographers, reporters once again.
Then the Aegean.
A busy summer for a solitudinem of men,
who wisheth pax. The fellow's in a fix
and he did it all himself.
O long ago he stretched forth a palm
open to the world; he's turned it upside down,
who wisheth pax.
Tired, a little, Henry opted for Athenian calm
but he will be sorry to leave this town,
cat, criminal, fox.
Henry, staggering, elderly, black, nearly fell off the Acropolis,
it is so damned old high.
Visions of the feet of Pericles
retrieved him, though the Parthenon is empty.
The statues are all in the National Museum
and London, etc, & melted down.
Athene, grace my age with wisdom, please you.
Let not my cluttered & tragic youth dispel
my radiant babyhood
which I may now resume, like peek-a-boo,
I admit the islands now, like Lesbos, spell
me silence like food,
like the strange fish we lately ate, my dear.
Flesh strong & good, also with mayonnaise
Your worship's interrupted, Henry's a mere
admirer, who do not kneel down & prays
& who is far to seek.
His inspiration lost, o'ercast, his Grecian café
shut for a holiday, he strove to say
'Hurrah' to his lady cat
upon her all-returning good birthday
when she'll be twenty-eight.
And there is no substitute for that.
27's too soon, too immature,
29 verges horribly on 30:
Two lengthy years — will still they see her pure?
as such things go, in the world, which is so dirty?
which she will not allow
but holds her standard to the mountain-top
which Henry once deserted but no more
O ho ho ho
we parleyed in a foul-mouth'd dialogue
last night: thunders over the high theatre applaud:
let's knock it off & go back home to the dog.
Gulls chains voices bells: honey we're home.
I don't care whether they cremate Henry or not.
His labour of travel is done
He came upon some shore one time like foam
but had to set out again or rot
with his life on him like a ton.
Unlike this feverish voyaging where new facts turned up
hourly, monthly, among stale voyagers
loud rich & rude & petty, whom God also will call to a stop
without the languages, bitches without their curs.
Rats across the Quai Voltaire run, can
frighten you honey at dusk or an Arab Street:
we knew that: Henry had the wit to be afraid
and so my dear love were you.
The ship bangs in. We relax in defeat,
stiffen to the new acquaintances to be made
& the sky over our graves is blue.
Henry under construction was Henry indeed:
gigantic cranes faltered under the load,
spark-showers from the welding played
with daylight, crew after crew
replaced each other like Kings, all done anew
Daily, to the horror of the gathering crowd
which gazed in a silence of awe or sobbed aloud.
The structure huge mounted apace. Some sang,
others in prayer knelt; when the western wing
was added, one vast sigh
arose & made its way into the earless sky.
Lifts were installed, many had their ashes hauled.
Parents in the throng looked down appalled,
In the end the mighty roof was hoisted on.
The event transpired throughout the city at dawn,
foot upon violent foot
converged to shining Henry in the risen sun,
question tormented the multitude one by one
to see to what use it would now be put.
Death all endeth, Henry to Sybil saith.
Sybil regurgitates, no word from her.
Ah, ah, no word from her.
Flashing existence seems from her to incur
a bitter silence, vomit, assent to his death
black as it must occur.
Black black black but not at the beginning
which was when? Ha ha we never remember.
And in the end we won't.
Suppose we wake up then a shrivelled cunt:
At that point too Fall will turn into December.
December: the noblest. After the pains & glories of the Fall
dead winter: snow car-high, snow shoulder-high,
hope shoulder-high for death:
no word from her at all.
Death all endeth, Henry to Sybil saith.
Henry scampered, young. Henry doddered old.
Steps bothered him. Packages in both hands
His figure altered not, he remained slim
but the memory loss. Persons from other lands
read him their poems bold,
demure, in Chinese, Bengali, Spanish, and chanted
in high Cambodian. Henry was enchanted
on an Iowa afternoon
but what did it have to do with his failing life,
his whisky curse, his problems with his wife,
when 'Let's have a new tune'
said Haydn to somebody? He brought his troubles home
and they were grand, and foreign poetry
was foreign poetry;
valiant, but not as brilliant as a comb
to make him less dishevelled. Old Henry never wept
but then he never slept.
Its source obscure, the river make its way
all the same seaward, and animals can't count,
Some insects can, and birds, and the amount
of organisms is over a million, say
the author of these books driving Henry crazy
with their zooids & their interfascicular cambium.
Did he after all take the wrong courses?
How can a man be so ignorant & live?
He dodged his way in & out of his resources
which he'd thought many, but numb
& structured like a sieve
he addressed hisself to a problem more complex
(the starter won't start, his lecture will be late)
: will she or won't she come?
If not, why so? And if so, will we sex?
Questions more vexed, absolutely innate,
worse than their damned interfascicular cambium.
20 Feb 68
Long (my dear) ago, when rosaries
based Henry's vaulting thought, at seven & six,
Henry perceived in the sky
your form amidst his stars. He fought to please
you & God daily. Seldom wicked tricks
surfaced into his I.
Malice remained, in this man, moribund
unto this hour and even at this hour
it's sleepy & can't bother.
Let demons do. But evils other conned
Henry sufficiently to blot or sour
your forms & the form of Father.
I was the altar-boy he depended on
on freezing twilit mornings, after good dreams.
Since when my dreams have changed.
Could Father wrong occurred to Henry gone
fearful, grown. Out of the world of seems
our death has us estranged.
20/21 Feb 68 (second) 1:50 a.m.
O and só tired I cannot cast a shadow.
It's Bellevue or the Tombs if I'm found out.
How have I come so far?
Exploited Henry passed his avatar.
Unrecognizable Henry hurled a shout
round the mirrors on the meadow.
His friend wrote on incomprehensibly,
the Viet war hottened up horribly,
Nixon is back in sight.
Shall willing Henry study art history
or Number or write letters or test the text
of The Merry Wives tonight?
Harmless his present thought as Ross's in
The Right and The Good: but is his discipline
The mirrored meadow called all relative,
he'll take his baby to the circus, he'll live,
'A drink, no thank you, sorry.'
1 Mar 68
Excerpted from Henry's Fate & Other Poems, 1967â"1972 by John Berryman. Copyright © 1977 Kate Berryman. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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